Saudi Arabia has announced it will remove several key restrictions on foreign workers in an overhaul of the kingdom's controversial labour policies, part of a plan to attract overseas talent and increase job market mobility.
The Ministry of Human Resource and Social Development said the reforms will allow foreign workers the right to change jobs by transferring their sponsorship from one employer to another, leave and re-enter the country and secure final exit visas without the consent of their employer, which had long been required.
"Runaway" reports that employers can file against foreign workers who stop showing up to their jobs - effectively rendering them fugitives - will be abolished and replaced with a procedure for ending their contract, Sattam Alharbi, a deputy minister at the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development told Bloomberg.
The new reforms that will come into effect in March 2021, will allow expatriate workers additional rights in line with the kingdom's Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Programme.
The reforms aim to drive greater competition in Saudi Arabia's labour market as it will permit employees to change their employers and also allow employers to attract the best talent, ultimately increasing competition, wages, and public spending inside the kingdom.
The new rules will apply to all foreign workers in the private sector, regardless of salary level. The changes could have a dramatic effect on Saudi Arabia's labour market and the lives of the 10.5 million foreign workers who make up about a third of the kingdom's population.
The initiative is expected to lead to a reduction in the disputes between local employers and expatriate workers relating to employee mobility or exit visa requests.
Under Saudi Arabia's restrictive kafala system, used for expatriates in Gulf Arab countries for decades, workers had little power to escape abuse because their employers controlled their exit from the country and their ability to change jobs.